U of Nebraska's Political Litmus Test · 23 October 2006

By Dwayne Ball and Gerard Harbison--Daily Nebraskan--10/24/06

University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty members need to read and comment on the proposed UNL Strategic Plan for Diversity by Halloween. The timing is utterly appropriate.

Here is what should frighten you:

1. From now on, your annual evaluations will include being graded on the extent to which you have contributed (or not) to a climate of "inclusiveness" and the extent to which you have participated in "campus programs to improve climate ..."

"Inclusiveness" is not defined in the document, nor is the nature of these programs specified. Thus, these words can mean whatever your department chairperson or others in the administration want them to mean - and can't we all guess?

Does anyone doubt that all this constitutes a politically based litmus test for continued employment? Simply expressing disagreement with affirmative action, or with UNL's implementation of it, could easily be cast as contributing to a "non-inclusive climate." Having the "wrong" book on your bookshelf or the "wrong" cartoon on your office door could be judged "non-inclusive."

This vague standard violates your rights under the First Amendment and your rights as a public employee. It also violates the spirit and the letter of academic freedom, both as generally understood and as codified in the University of Nebraska Regents' bylaws, section 4.2. If you think you are immune because you hold the "correct" opinions, you might want to take a close reading of the document and imagine how it could be used against you by a hostile department chairperson.

2. All potential new hires must be grilled on their willingness and ability to "contribute positively" to the "campus climate."

As a candidate, if you slip up during an interview and reveal that you think the diversity emperor has no clothes, you've lost your chance at a UNL job - based on your political opinions.

Let no one think this doesn't happen. At other institutions, faculty candidates have been asked if they'd read books such as "America in Black in White" (critical of affirmative action) or "The Bell Curve" (deemed racist). Simply admitting to have read such a book has cost them a job.

3. All academic units will have "diversity curricula" and an assessment of their effectiveness. This asserts administrative hegemony over one of the very few areas over which faculty members still maintain some control: curriculum. This is a direct violation of the academic freedom of faculty members.

4. There are to be recruitment "targets" for female and minority faculty. Deans and department chairpersons will be graded on their ability to meet those targets. The administration will thus force lower and mid-level administrators and faculty search committees into illegal reverse discrimination.

If you plan to join a search committee, keep in mind that you may therefore be called upon to display "non-inclusive" behavior. That is, you may be required or "encouraged" to exclude non-Hispanic white male applicants. Thus, you will be in violation of the other parts of the plan that require you to be "inclusive."

In the High-Orwellian Newspeak of diversity, exclusivity is inclusive! Naturally, the authors of the plan will protest they meant no such thing as unconstitutional hiring and employment practices nor violations of free speech and academic freedom.

If so, why have they left critical terms open to interpretation? Why have they provided no explicit protections for free expression of ideas even if those ideas imply some sort of "non-inclusiveness?" Why have they not explicitly protected faculty members and employees who will say out loud that "diversity" has become a pathetic caricature? Why is "diversity of ideas" unprotected?

Precisely, perhaps, because the authors intend harm to people based on their political viewpoints. For shame.
Dwayne Ball is an associate professor of marketing and Gerard Harrison is a professor of chemistry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.